I’m actually writing this diary on Saturday September 8th after having spent the last 3 days in Durham prison.
The day began at 7am when I left the Armstrong Hall in Neil Tate’s car to go picketing at Wearmouth as usual. I told the lads I was with that we shouldn’t just stand around being passive but needed to take some positive action.They all agreed.
We arrived at Wearmouth at 7.30 and joined the fifty or so men already in the car park. I had a chat with Dave Hopper, the Lodge Secretary of Wearmouth, and asked him why the fence hadn’t been removed because it was a real hindrance to us having a proper push against the pigs. Dave agreed with me but said there was nothing he could do because the pigs were at the pit 24 hours a day. He also told me that Sunderland Magistrates were taking a really hard line with arrested pickets. Two of his lads had been remanded in custody to Durham prison. I know one of them really well, Alan Margham, and I asked Dave to pass him my regards when he saw him. Little did I know that I would see him before he did!
By 7.45 there were at least 250 of us in the car park facing a line of about 200 pigs directly in front of the main pit entrance, only seperated by the bloody metal fence. a group of us began moving around the pickets because we were really pissed off with the passivity. After having had men lifted on a daily basis the hard core activists were also being reduced, and the picket had become really stale. We couldn’t allow it to continue because a passive picket would just encourage more scabbing. We started telling the lads we were going out onto the road on our right to form a push and asked everyone to join us. Accordingly about twenty of us moved onto the road and began shouting for everyone to join us. We soon had about a hundred men but the majority refused to move, even when we yelled at them and called them ‘plastic pickets’ and worse. I have a very big gob and my throat hurt with the effort of shouting but it did no good.
The scab bus was due so we formed up into a solid mass and started to move towards the pigs, who had rushed to form a reinforced line in front of us. We chanted our battle cry of, ‘Zulu,Zulu,Zulu’ and then crashed into the pigs. Initially we made progress, forcing the pigs back a little until more reinforcements joined their lines. We could have broken through easily if the ‘plastics’ watching from the sidelines had joined us. As it was the push was broken by a group of pigs attacking us from the side and splitting off the front two lines from the rest of the lads. I was roughly grabbed around the throat by a pig and struggled to fight back and keep my feet. The bastard was choking me and he dragged me through the police lines. He threw me to the ground, and as I struggled to get my breath he leapt on me with his knee across my chest. I could see he was an inspector by his flat hat and he said”Got you at last, you big mouthed bastard. That’s your picketing days over’.I wondered if I’d been singled out as I was roughly dragged backwards and thrown into the back of a police van. Within minutes the van was full, with 8 pickets and six pigs and we were driven the short distance over the bridge to the same police station we had stoned the week before.
Inside Monkwearmouth police station, which was so small it didn’t have any cells, with my ‘arresting officer’, a young PC, we were told to stand against the wall to have our photograph taken by an obese sergeant(is there any other kind?) with a polaroid camera. He told me the photo was for ‘official’ records,ie the photo albums they used to identify activists. The sergeant pressed the button and all four flash cubes went off and unexposed film shot out the front. I laughed out loud and so did the young PC but the segeant wasn’t amused. Cursing, he fitted new flashes and loaded new film. We composed ourselves, with me trying to look defiant and the PC smiling broadly. The same thing happened, flashes and film spewing out the front. I was laughing madly when an angry inspector burst into the room and demanded to know what the hell was going on! The fat sergeant said he couldn’t understand it because it had never happened before. He tried one more time with exactly the same results. The inspector grabbed the camera and threw it in a bin and ordered the sergeant to go and get a replacement.
Finally I was photographed and then taken into another room where the angry inspector was waiting impatiently. He said to the young PC,’What kind of abusive language did this scum use?’ The young lad was either very naive, very stupid, or a mixture of the two because he replied,’Sorry sir, but I didn’t actually hear him saying anything’. I thought the Inspector was going to explode. He yelled for the fat sergeant to take me away. As I was being taken out I heard the Inspector say,’Now what did you hear the bastard say?’ No doubt that cleared the young lads memory.
I was taken outside and locked into a tiny cell on one of them pig buses you usually see parked at football grounds. An uncomfortable hour later there were 12 of us in the cells and we were driven to Gill Bridge police station in Sunderland and locked into two cells, six to a cell. I was with three Westoe lads, one of whom had only been doing picket duty for a fortnight! I grew up in the same street, Chaucer Avenue, as one of the lads,Davy Larsen, and we spent the time chatting about our experiences over the past six months.
During the morning we were taken out to be photographed, again, fingerprinted and questioned, and finally charged. I was charged with,’Foul,insulting and abusive behaviour liable to cause a breach of the peace’. The officer charging me asked if I had any outstanding charges against me and he grinned when I told him about Bilston Glen last month.
We were allowed to see a solicitor provided by the NUM and he told me we would probably be bailed and banned from going within two miles of Wearmouth, which is what I was expecting.
We had dinner of soya pie, potato and turnip which was bloody horrible but I ate it anyway. We were then let out of the cells and told to wait at the foot of the stairs that led up into the courtroom. We whispered amongst ourselves. I recognised one of the lads, Bob Robson, who had been one of the most voiciferous supporters of of going to jail in Bishop Auckland but had bottled out and phoned the TV instead. He got me worried when he told me the solicitor who had seen him had warned him he might be refused bail and be remanded in custody because of his previous arrest. This had happened to men who appeared before the bench previously. It wasn’t looking good. I was feeling a bit pissed off because he had seen a woman solicitor, as had most of the other lads, with only a few of us seeing the man. I suspected he must be a trainee or something because he told me I would probably be bailed.
It was 3pm when the first six lads were led up into the courtroom, and when they came back they told us they’d been bailed and weren’t to go within 2 miles of Wearmouth, as they’d expected. We were called up and I was a bit surprised when the magistrate called the first four lads to the bench and left Bob and me to one side. The four lads were all released on the same bail conditions as the other six.
We were ordered to face the magistrate and he glared at us as if we were two lumps of shit. Bob was dealt with first, and despite the pleas of the female solicitor, was remanded in custody to Durham Prison until September 14th. Bob was led down looking totally shocked. I faced the magistrate and received the same sentence, with the magistrate saying I was being remanded because of my disgraceful past record and that he believed I would ignore any bail conditions imposed upon me. He also said something about me being a danger to public order but I was too gobsmacked to take it all in. What evidence did the bastard have that I would ignore bail conditions? He ordered me to be taken down and the guy who led me away said the time would soon pass. Easy for him to say. He wasn’t on his way to Durham Prison!
After being held in a cell for half an hour we were taken up to a yard and handcuffed together before being put into a van. It was an uncomfortable journey, made worse by the gobshite sergeant who accompanied us. He was one of those ‘ some of my best friends are miners’ types and was constantly trying to be friendly. I ignored the bastard but Bob chatted happily with him. The pig was condemning Scargill and picket line violence, and Bob was agreeing with him! I couldn’t believe it and wondered why he’d been on the picket line in the first place. Bob said he couldn’t wait to get back to work and that it would happen soon because there was no way we could defeat Thatcher. It made an already depressing journey worse and I worried about what Kath would say when she found out, and how Jen and Sasha would react. I was also angry that none of our lodge officials had been in court so how would Kath find out? I hoped Keith or Gary would call round to tell her. I felt as if I was about to start a life sentence instead of a few days on remand and resolved that in future I would content myself with being an ‘indian’ and leave being a ‘chief’ to others.
Once inside the prison gates the handcuffs were taken off and we were taken into the Search Tank, which is a room beside the main gate where incoming prisoners are taken to be searched. They searched everywhere, even the soles of my feet, and it was a humiliating experience. After the usual jokes about my surname we were taken into the reception area, and after another lengthy wait we were taken into another room full of men waiting to be admitted into the prison. One of these men was a long term prisoner waiting to be transferred to a prison in Scotland. He told me he’s been in Wakefiels Prison for seven years and this was the first time in all those years he’d been outside. He told me he was doing life for murder yet despite this I felt sorry for him. The other men were burglars and con men who passed the time by bragging about all the crimes they’d gotten away with before being caught for something trivial. When they heard what Bob and me were in for they were very sympathetic and gave us loads of advice on what to expect and what we could get away with. Bob said he’d done some time as a younger man and started talking and telling tales of his exploits as a criminal, trying to be the equal of the other men, daft bastard. He’s a bit of a know all is Bob. Anyway, I was glad for the advice and felt a bit easier in my mind.
We were examined by the prison doctor before being forced to have a bath in cold water full of disinfectant. The towel I dried on was like sandpaper! We were then issued with our uniform; one pair of underpants, one vest,a pair of socks with holes in the heels, a blue striped shirt, a pair of brown trousers that were too big, and a brown jacket stamped with ‘HMP Durham’ in case anyone tried to steal it. The whole outfit was completed by a pair of battered black slip on shoes, with mine having holes gouged in the heels, making it uncomfortable to walk, not that I expected to be doing a lot of that!
Washed, dressed and given a number, all we had to look forward to was prison food. I was bloody starving but when I saw what was on offer I almost lost my appetite. I was handed a plate with a blob of mashed potato, shrivelled up peas and a solitary hot dog sausage. A plastic mug of unsweetened tea was provided, presumably to wash away the horrible taste of the food which I gulped down with a minimum of chewing in the hope that my taste buds wouldn’t be irreparably damaged.
After our meal we had another long wait. I passed the time chatting with a con man who was on a three year sentence, and if he was to be believed, had £30,000 stashed for his release. He entertained me with stories of his many criminal exploits and the time passed quickly. He also gave me some cigarettes, which was great because I’d finished the few I’d been arrested with. I am grateful to the ‘screw’ who gave me the fags because prison rules stated that only sealed packets were to be given to prisoners. He told me he supported the miners, which came as a pleasant surprise because I had expected the screws to be bastards like the pigs are. In fact, all the screws we had contact with were great, with one in particular, being an ex – miner himself, doing all he could to make our stay less uncomfortable.
Bob and I were to be kept together, which came as a relief because I’d heard all the tales of homosexuality in prisons. Not that I’ve anything against homosexuals. I just didn’t want to experience it myself at first hand! At 9pm we were given a sheet, a pillowcase and a blanket. We carried theseinto B Wing because the remand wing was full. We climbed the metal staircase and I thought of the prison in ‘Porridge’. There was thick wire mesh strung beneath the landings to stop men throwing themselves off to escape the food! We were on the second floor, in cell B2 – 30, and it was really depressing when we went in and the door was locked behind us.
Our cell was bloody horrible. It was filthy, with fag ends on the cracked concrete floor. The arch window had thick glass panes that were filthy, and six of them were missing, causing a chill breeze to waft around the cell and circulate the stink from the plastic bucket full of piss and shit that stood in the middle of the floor. The decor was post – holocaust,damp grey walls and cobwebbed ceiling. We each had a metal frame bed with a thin ‘white’ matress that was full of stains, and mine was decorated with a schoolboy – ish drawing of a naked woman. We also had a blue plastic mug each, an orange plastic washing bowl and jug, and a plastic razor with no blade. Two wooden tables completed the furniture, all crammed into a cell no more than six foot wide and twelve long.
The screw, who Bob kept calling ‘Boss’, told us to make a final trip to the bog. The first thing I saw on entering was a contorted face behind a half door, complete with sound effects as he strained to shit. He put me right off and I was determined to hold my bowels as long as I could.
Back in the cell Bob was the first to spot two books and immediately grabbed the cowboy story. I was relieved until I saw the other book was a biography of Martin Luther. I skimmed it and quickly decided it wasn’t for me. I would happily have swapped it for the cowboy book.
At 10pm the light went out and we settled down to sleep. I was knackered but it took me a long time to drop off. I worried about Kath and the girls, and for me that is the worst thing about being locked up,not being able to communicate with your loved ones, and not knowing what is happening to them.